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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Where to Eat for Jury Duty in Downtown LA

Jury Duty Postcard from Panorama Cafe
Ah, the dreaded jury duty... I got summoned the beginning of August and for almost a week, I didn't have to report. Then come Friday, I checked my reporting instructions online and lo and behold, it told me to come in! Noooooooooo~ As luck would have it, I got selected to be on a jury so I had to come to court the following week. GAH! Not only did I not plan to do anything the week I had jury duty, but I also had to cancel all plans for the following week. Seriously. I was bummed.

However, after watching Silver Linings Playbook, I looked for my silver lining. For me, that came in the form of lunch. I was unfortunate enough to be selected for a case on a Friday, but lucky enough to be on a jury panel with people who liked good food and knew where to get it.

PANORAMA CAFE (9th Floor of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse)
111 N Hill St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

On my first day of jury duty (which so happened to be my first time ever having to report), I ate inside the cafe of the courthouse. (This was before getting to know my fellow food-loving jurors.) I read on Yelp that they had a decent tuna cranberry salad so I decided to try that. There's a policy inside the courthouse where you're not allowed to take pictures while inside so I didn't take a picture of the salad, but it was basically a bed of mixed greens with a scoop of tuna salad (tuna, mayo, and diced red onion), dried cranberries, and a balsamic vinaigrette. It was good, but not worth the almost $8.50 I spent on it. I felt like it was something I could easily make at home.
View of Downtown LA from Panorama Cafe
However, the great thing about this cafe is the view you get of downtown. (I'm a total sucker for a great view!)
View of the Disney Concert Hall from Panorama Cafe
The outside seating/balcony area wraps around 3/4 of the building so you get to see most of downtown.
View of the Dorthy Chandler Pavilion from Panorama Cafe
I ended up spending my mornings drinking my coffee outside and admiring the (sometimes overcast) view before I had to go into the courtroom.
View of the courthouse courtyard from Panorama Cafe
This cafe is open to the public so anyone can go up there. You just need to go through airport-style security and a metal detector to get into the building. There's no cameras allowed in the courthouse though so don't bring your nice camera to take pictures, but do come to check out the view if you're in the area. (All these pictures were taken with my cell phone camera. I'm technically outside the courthouse so I wasn't breaking the rules, right? :P)
View of Los Angeles City Hall from Panorama Cafe
As a sidenote, I found this postcard next to the cashier in Panorama Cafe and had to get it after Day 3. Everyone was just so tired and stressed out about our case that this postcard was just too funny to pass up. I still chuckle a little when I see it.
Wish you were here... instead of me!
Now, onto the good stuff! While Panorama Cafe was easy to access, if you venture out to the various ethnic centers of LA (all within walking distance of the courthouse), you're going to hit the jackpot in authentic, cheap cultural foods.

First off, let's talk about Olvera Street. If you've never been, it's basically a little slice of Mexico set in the middle of LA. One of the jurors grew up on Olvera Street. In fact, his grandmother was one of the founders and his family still owns a few stores there! On Day 2, we ventured out to Olvera Street, where he gave us a bit of a history lesson while pointing out where we should eat.

23 Olvera St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Cielito Lindo on Olvera Street
Cielito Lindo (which translates to "beautiful little sky") is located at one of the ends of Olvera Street. They're known for their beef taquitos, which is a Mexican dish where meat is wrapped in a corn tortilla and fried. There's a man cooking them right next to the cashier so you get them as soon as you place your order. I found the outer shell pleasantly crunchy. The shredded beef inside was tender and I loved how everything was covered in their avocado sauce.These babies were 2 for $3.
Cielito Lindo's Beef Taquitos (2 for $3)
W-1 Olvera St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Closer to the other end of Olvera Street is La Luz Del Dia (which translates to "the light of day"). This place has some of the best handmade corn tortillas I've ever had. While we were paying, I could see women making tortillas by hand in the back.
Nopales Taco from La Luz Del Dia
One of the jurors was vegetarian so the juror from Olvera Street recommended getting nopales, which is cactus. It kind of had the texture of well-cooked bell pepper, but took on the flavor of the lemon/lime juice, tomato, and onions it was mixed with. I thought it was good and the other jurors who had experience with nopales said it was really good.
Fish Taco from La Luz Del Dia
I also ordered a fish taco (one of their Monday specials). The juror from Olvera Street said this was probably a new item because he never saw it before. Surprisingly, their fish taco (made with tilapia) was grilled. It was good with the onions and tomato, but I prefer my fish tacos battered and fried.
Carnitas Taco from La Luz Del Dia
This particular restaurant is known for their carnitas (shredded pork) so, of course, I had to try it. I thought the carnitas was flavorful - a little on the salty side, but in a good way. When you add their fresh-made salsa, this taco really rocks! All three tacos together cost me less than $5.
Now, let's move onto Grand Central Market. This area is only about 10 minutes away from the courthouses. It was renovated a few years ago and includes various stalls that sell food, groceries, spices, candy, pastries, etc.

Grand Central Market, Space A-5
317 S Broadway

Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tacos Tumbras A Tomas at Grand Central Market
Let me tell you, the tacos here are HUGE! At $2.50 for one, the workers do not skimp on the meat. At all. You might not be able to tell from the picture below, but that is a regular-sized styrofoam plate filled with food. I tried the carne asada (beef steak seen in back) and found that to be a little dry, but liked the carnitas (shredded pork in the front). Honestly, I liked the carnitas from La Luz Del Dia a little more though. You get the option of adding red or green salsa to your tacos. I went with the red salsa, which had a good kick to it. Just be prepared for a serious case of food coma after eating so much. I think one taco would've been enough for a girl like me. (One of the jurors later told me that I was his hero for finishing so much food. He was impressed! Haha!)
Carne Asada (back) and Carnitas (front) Tacos from Tacos Tumbras a Tomas
One of my fellow jurors ordered a torta (sandwich) from the same stall and it was also HUGE. It looked really good with freshly sliced avocado. I'm going to try that the next time I visit Grand Central Market, but will definitely have to split it with someone.
As an insider tip for this stall, there is actually no line for ordering so you need to make eye contact and get one of the worker's attention to place your order. Be assertive! Or else you might not be able to get some of this ginormous goodness.

317 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Valerie at Grand Central Market
This particular bakery and coffee shop is located at one of the far corners of Grand Central Market. It's a mini version of Valerie Confections located in Silverlake. I came here specifically to try their vintage cakes - Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake and The Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake. The day I visited, they only had Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake so I bought a slice for $6 - steep, but I wanted to give it a try.
Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake from Valerie - $6/slice
Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake was famous in San Francisco and disappeared when the bakery closed, but Valerie Confections was asked to recreate it for the LA Times. There's actually a recipe published on the LA Times website but it doesn't seem like the authentic recipe since it calls for a "store-bought or homemade" angel food cake. The cake slice I tried consisted of a super soft, moist, lemony chiffon cake with coffee whipped cream frosting. The "crunch" part was actually a type of light and crisp toffee with parts of it having a crispy cookie-like texture while other parts having the hard texture of normal toffee. (Glancing over the recipe showed that the toffee achieved this texture through the addition of baking soda.) Martha Stewart offers a more reliable recipe if you want to try making it at home, but it looks labor-intensive.

(Located somewhere in the center of Grand Central Market)
Ceviche from Grand Central Market
Instead of trying Tacos Tumbras a Tomas, two of the jurors decided they wanted to get ceviche, which is this Mexican seafood dish that consists of raw seafood that gets marinaded in lime or lemon juice. In effect, the acid "cooks" the seafood. I've avoided ceviche most of my life because of the risk of food poisoning, but decided to try some when one of the jurors exclaimed it was "really good" and offered me some. I will admit, it was quite tasty. It was slightly sweet, but citrus-y from the lime juice. It had large chunks of seafood and even whole shrimp. The large tub pictured above was only $6. The other juror got the smaller tub that's half this size for about $3.50.
On the fourth day of jury duty, we set out to eat in Chinatown. Be warned, Chinatown is further out than the other areas I mentioned so you have to plan accordingly. It took us about 25 minutes to walk there. We didn't have any particular place we wanted to eat at so we decided to try Yang Chow.

819 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Yang Chow was featured on Food Network for their Slippery Shrimp. Upon entering, you'll notice the photos of celebrities who have eaten there lining the wall. There was a large crowd at lunch, but the restaurant was decidedly not full of Chinese people, which made me question the authenticity of the place. After perusing the menu, I realized why there was a lack of Chinese people. The menu prices were through the roof when compared to any of the neighboring Chinese restaurants - easily twice the amount of other restaurant's "Lunch Special" prices. (Lemon Chicken was $13.25! Other restaurants would've charged $7.50 at most for lunch.) I guess being on Food Network affords you the luxury of raising prices since you know people will come try your food.
Slippery Shrimp from Yang Chow - $14.95
I found the Slippery Shrimp to be an interesting dish. It was lightly battered and fried, then sauteed in a sweet, lemony, garlicky sauce. It was alright, but not worth $15 in my opinion. Their pan-fried noodles were made with thicker noodles, not the thin egg noodles (a.k.a. chow mein noodles) I'm used to. The Lemon Chicken reminded me of chicken katsu and had the lemon sauce on the side, which I appreciated so that the sauce wouldn't make the breading soggy. We also had Shrimp Toast, which was my first time having shrimp toast. It came with a sweet and sour sauce on the side. Overall, I thought the food was alright, not the most authentic Chinese food, and definitely not worth the high price tag, but it was nice giving it a try to see what the hype was all about. 

Overall, my tummy was quite happy over these last few days of jury duty. The case itself was nerve-racking though. It was an eviction case and sadly, the tenant and her family got evicted. Through this case, I think we all learned the importance of following lease agreements and contracts and always getting things in writing. Although jury duty was stressful, lunch and the people I met while on jury duty almost made the time and stress worth it. If you have any suggestions for places to eat in Downtown LA, please let me know! What do you eat when you have jury duty?


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